The Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), Antonio Guterres on Wednesday ordered for the immediate release of four soldiers of the Foreign Legion of the French army operating for the United Nations mission in Central Africa (MINUSCA).
“These members of MINUSCA enjoy privileges and immunities which are granted to them in the interest of the United Nations,” Guterres said in a statement, stressing that the procedure established between the UN and the Central African Republic in the event of a suspected offence concerning UN personnel “had not been respected.
In his statement, the UN chief “calls on the government of the Central African Republic to respect all its obligations under international law, including the Status of Forces Agreement, and to release this MINUSCA personnel unconditionally and without delay.
While the French general staff was confident at the beginning of the week that its soldiers would soon be released, the Central African Republic opened an investigation on Tuesday after the detention of four legionnaires accused on social networks of having wanted to “assassinate” the head of state.
The four soldiers arrested outside Bangui airport while accompanying a French general, a senior military official of MINUSCA, were armed and in fatigues. They are “of French, Italian, Romanian and Bulgarian nationality”, and were travelling in an unmarked vehicle not bearing the UN logo, the Bangui public prosecutor said, announcing the opening of “a regular investigation to shed light on the facts”.
On social networks, they were accused of having wanted to “assassinate” the Central African President Faustin Archange Touadéra, whose convoy was to pass at the same place, which France and the UN have strongly denied, denouncing a “gross manipulation”.
The arrest came at a time when relations between France and its former colony are increasingly tense, exacerbated by a fierce war of influence between Paris and Moscow in the country at war since 2013.
On Tuesday, France and the United States accused of the first time in the UN Security Council the “mercenaries” of the Russian company Wagner of having “massacred” and “executed” dozens of civilians in January in the Central African Republic. Russia has rejected these accusations.